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The results are in

June 25, 2007

As some of you have heard, my Western States race ended early and far from the finish line. Here’s the self-pitying report I submitted to RunnersWorld.com.

IT’S NOT FAIR!

I’m in a whiny, feeling-sorry-for-myself mood right now. The more sympathetic readers among you may wonder why.

It’s not because I didn’t win Western States, which would have been difficult under even the most favorable of circumstances. And it’s not because I failed to meet my time goal, which despite its ridiculous precision (16:41:59) was pretty much a wild guess as to what I was capable of. It’s because I thought I prepared and raced sensibly, and yet it didn’t matter. I was competely destroyed by the course and the warm weather anyway. Poor me!

The outcome was not one I had anticipated during the early miles. I settled into a pace that felt sustainable — probably about 8:30 to 9:00 per mile on the flat, smooth sections — and seemed all the more comfortable because of the tranquil meadows and mountainsides around me. I felt as peaceful as I ever have during a race.

That peace was disturbed slightly by my split times, which from the beginning were slower than I had planned. I arrived at the first major checkpoint, Red Star Ridge (mile 16.0), after 2 hours and 42 minutes, about 13 minutes behind schedule; by Robinson Flat (mile 29.7), my time of 5:02 was 18 minutes slow. But I was sure that speeding up would lead to disaster, so I kept my effort steady, telling myself that most of the people ahead of me would come back to me later or drop out.

Another intrusion on my peacefulness came in the form of Nikki Kimball, who passed me two or three times between mile 25 and 35 before pulling away for good. Getting “chicked” (i.e., losing to a woman) is not easy on my fragile male ego. On the other hand, Nikki finished behind only two male runners at last year’s race, so I was in good company. Also, she’s a friend and fellow Williams College alum, so I was able to enjoy a few minutes of relaxed conversation with her before she grew bored of my pedestrian pace.

All things considered, I was in good spirits as I reached the Last Chance aid station at mile 43.3. I was in 13th place, with plenty of time to work my way into the top five. The volunteers from the Stevens Creek Striders gave me a fresh coat of sunscreen, and I joked with them about eating the pizza they were offering to runners.

I don’t know why that aid station is called “Last Chance,” but in my case it was my last chance to feel good that day. The trail to the next stop, Devil’s Thumb (mile 47.8), consists of 1.7 miles over fairly flat ground followed by a precipitous descent in which you lose 1300 vertical feet over 1.4 miles and then a brutal 1.4-mile climb in which you gain those 1300 feet right back. I thought I was mentally prepared for this section — I had seen the elevation profiles beforehand and knew that I’d have to walk both the descent and the climb — but it seemed to take forever, and I arrived at Devil’s Thumb feeling defeated and somewhat nauseated.

Then came another descent down to El Dorado Creek (mile 52.9). This one wasn’t as steep, but my quads were now showing the effects of the 13,000 or so vertical feet of cumulative downhill covered up to that point. I proceeded with a tentativeness generally reserved for activities like trying to surgically remove one’s own appendix.

Meanwhile, my nausea worsened, and I switched from Gu2O to water. My “water diet,” as might be expected from its lack of electrolytes and calories, proved to be only a temporary fix. I was able to run parts of the climb up to Michigan Bluff (mile 55.7), passing eventual women’s runner-up Bev Anderson-Abbs, and got a rousing cheer from my crew (my wife and her sister) at the aid station. But within a few more miles I was reduced to a slow, unsteady walk.

As I ambled onward, I took stock of my situation. My quads were shot, to the point where I could no longer run downhill at all. I didn’t feel like eating or drinking anything despite the obvious need to do so. Both feet had multiple blisters from the rough, rocky sections of the trail. I was no longer enjoying myself, and the thought of traveling another 40 miles in my weakened state was simply unbearable. I decided to quit.

Once that decision was made, my final Herculean task was to convince the well-meaning volunteers at Foresthill (mile 62.0) that I really, definitely wanted to stop and would not regret my decision tomorrow.

“Let me work on your muscles for a while,” offered one. “Have some soup and think about it some more,” suggested another. “Once you get your electrolytes back to normal, you’ll feel a lot better.”

I struck back with a determination to show that my decision was rational and final. “All the electrolytes in the world will not repair these muscle tears,” I said, pointing to my quads. “I know that,” I added somewhat gratuitously, “because I have a Ph.D. in physiology.” Eventually I got my way.

To those who achieved greater success than I did — from winners Hal Koerner (16:12:16) and Nikki Kimball (18:12:38) to the 250 or so others who finished within the allotted 30 hours — I say: congratulations. My lightweight, sun-shielding racing hat is off to you. As for me, I will not attempt another race like this anytime soon. Although Western States provided some wonderful moments, it exposed my weaknesses (lousy downhill running technique, feet not accustomed to rocky trails, uncertainty about food and drink choices after the first eight hours, etc.) so completely and mercilessly that I feel a strong need to retreat to my strengths for a while. Strengths like my capacity to consume fried chicken, for example. Which should be even more impressive now that my nausea has subsided

Naturally, some people did finish the race, permitting me to determine a winner in my prediction contest. Below is a summary of the voting and actual race performances. The format is: name: votes received; place (among runners of the same gender), time.

MEN
Jae-Duk Sim: 9 votes; 10th place, 18:44
Lon Freeman: 9 votes; DNF
Greg Crowther: 7 votes; DNF
Erik Skaden: 5 votes; 2nd place, 16:36
Brian Morrison: 5 votes; DNF
Brian Robinson: 2 votes; 23rd place, 21:20
Graham Cooper: 1 vote; 3rd place, 17:11
Andy Jones-Wilkins: 1 vote; 4th place, 17:20
James Bonnett: 1 vote; 12th place, 19:41
Jon Olsen: 1 vote; 16th place, 20:26
David Goggins: 1 vote; 21st place, 20:52
Jim Huffman: 1 vote; DNS
Joe Kulak: 1 vote; DNE (did not enter)

WOMEN
Nikki Kimball: 25 votes; 1st place, 18:12
Kami Semick: 7 votes; 8th place, 21:40
Anne Lundblad: 6 votes; 9th place, 21:46
Annette Bednosky: 2 votes; 6th place, 21:15
Bev Anderson-Abbs: 1 vote; 2nd place, 19:31
Karine Herry: 1 vote; 3rd place, 20:12
Julie Fingar: 1 vote; 15th place, 23:34

Noticeably absent among the list of vote-getters is men’s champ Hal Koerner, who clocked an impressive time of 16:12. Surprises among the women were less dramatic, with 4th-place Caren Spore (20:36) being the top finisher not to receive any pre-race votes.

Although no voters correctly guessed both the men’s and women’s champions, three people (AJW, Craig Thornley, and Leanne McCulloch) came quite close by endorsing the combination of Erik Skaden (2nd male) and Nikki Kimball (1st female). Based on the predictions of winning times, the tiebreaker goes to AJW. Please step forward to identify yourself — the world wants to know if you are 4th-place finisher Andy Jones-Wilkins — and claim your prize! Thornley and McCulloch will be awarded consolation prizes of some sort.

15 comments

  1. Sorry it wasn't your day out there Greg! I won't be at all surprised though when you eventually return to Western States and conquer that course! In the mean time – hope your recovery and fried chicken eating go well! 🙂


  2. Great effort! You are a fast and talented runner. Keep on running! I wish you well.


  3. Both articles are great so I'm glad you came out of this with something more than trashed quads. Nevertheless, I'm so sorry it was such a grim experience. I tracked you (the site is really very good) and truly felt anguished when I saw you'd dropped.A number of years ago I was a handler for a friend who was running what was then an annual 100 miler at Shea Stadium. Around the field, out the outfield fence to the parking lot, around the lot, and back. A hundred times. Not exactly Western States but dispiriting in its own way. At 75 miles, he wanted to quit. The race had started at 6:00 p.m., and I thought that 75 miles was a pretty decent night's run. But back in the Mets dugout, which is where we handlers sat, the old-timers told me not to let him drop out–he looked too good, he'd be sorry later, etc. Then one said, "Tell him to give it another three hours and assess from there." I liked these guys who thought in three-hour units.I hope your recovery goes well and you're out soon doing training and racing you can enjoy more.


  4. Greg,Yup, AJW is Andy Jones-Wilkins. Erik ran hard and put up a great number but Hal was in a class by himself this year and deserved the win, big time. After he cleared Michigan Bluff at 1:48 PM (52 minutes ahead of me) I knew we were all racing for 2nd.Thanks, AJWPS — What's my prize? Hal's Playlist?


  5. Great effort Greg, even though it didn't work out the way you wanted it to. Given your description of how things were going, I completely understand and agree with your decision to stop.Giving WS a go was very ambitious, given the acknowledged mismatches between the demands of the race (e.g., lots of downhill running) and your strengths. I'm curious if you feel WS is so ill-matched to your strengths that you'll never want to have another go at it, or if you feel that with different training (e.g., no Miwok) you could meet your original goal of running a time fast enough to compete for the win. Probably best not to address this question now, so close to the event, as I suspect I know what your answer would be.Brinsley and I were following you all day on Saturday–the website was very nice. Brinsley was updating your position on the website literally every 5 minutes, despite my suggestion that the nature of the event made such fine-scale resolution pointless.Enjoyed your RW post-mortem; as always, your honesty is both entertaining and admirable. Ignore the contrary comment on the RW site from "A 29 Hour Finisher"; I wish he/she had revealed where it's written that everyone has to enter an individual event like WS with the same motivations and goals.


  6. Greg,Sorry to hear this. Really sorry. I was pulling for you.Sounds like we both had rough Saturdays. Only yours was on a much grander scale of discomfort.Eh, me thinks you're going to bounce back, big time. I can't wait to see what happens next. I think you are doing some really great things for this sport called ultrarunning, setting performance standards higher and higher.In the meantime, recover well and dream of happier runs.Meghan


  7. Greg,I'm so sorry that WS didn't go as you had hoped. Uli and I were paying attention more to this race than in getting ready for mine (probably not the best thing for me) and we were sad when we found out you had dropped. I'm glad that it wasn't for a more "serious" reason, though (e.g., you're not in the hospital).I have DNF-ed once and know that it's extremely difficult even when you know that, for good reason, you can't go on. This one DNF I have haunts me to no end, even though there was no way I physically could have continued. I hope that your DNF experience will motivate you in future training sessions and to make the best of and fully appreciate the days when you feel "on" on race day.Looking forward to getting together for a long run again sometime this summer – once your quads have recovered. :)Cheers!Trisha


  8. Keep eatin' that fried chicken and I'll catch up to you! I have to admit that I can only hope that someday I can put in hard training like you did, sacrifice time and comfort, spend alot of dough and suffer in the heat at WS so that I can say that I quit or finished! I can't believe the couple of self-righteous posts you got on the RW site. I hope you have a great summer and look forward to seeing you at the races soon!


  9. Greg,I enjoyed your blog, and like so many of your other fans, I was tracking you on race day. I hated to see you drop, but as you once said to me, "Nobody questions your toughness." OK, maybe 29 hour finisher, but certainly not the people who know you. I wish you a smooth recovery and many great races to come! Take care.


  10. Dude:I was watching for you at Foresthill but had to leave before you got in.Not incidentally, are you planning to go to Winschoten? Or have you decided to enter Badwater as a "warm up"?


  11. Greg,at times the "you are only as good as your last race" cultural and behavioral model, which I am not an avid fan fan of, seems to prevail over knowledge and experience of the people we observe.This said, to mean I would not judge anybody by one (the last) race alone but like any experience there's a lot to learn from every significant thing we do, the only possible and fair criticism that i could think of, beyond those you raise yourself to describe your performance or lack thereof in this significant experience, is based on my own subjective interpretation of the way you approached the race, including the decision to blog on a popular and prestigious publication.This decision alone, in my view, transformed your race – intended in its purest competitive and participatory sense – into an "experiment" or as i audaciously defined it, a "blog-riment."As I wrote previously, Science of Running meets Science of Writing.How much did it "weigh" on you?I wonder if you, and the rest of the blogging community who followed your experience, within the subjective parameters I described, would find it fair to say that by not finishing the race you did not complete the experiment.And I guess this is a source of disappointment. From the merge of the literary with the athletic, you maybe let go just when it was starting to get very meaningful. When we start to understand how the human body, mind and spirit works under real intense pressure, made no less intense by the agreement to make an account of it.I suppose if you had been "spiritually" overcome by the negative experience you could have chosen to do a literary DNF and not write about. Or maybe write just that: DNF. As they do for those anonymous runners or ultrarunners outhere who meet the same fate.By far the most significant and self-critical detail you write is the comment you made "…because I have a Ph.D. in physiology" to which one could feel tempted to respond, then as now, "well, it didnt' help a whole lot, in light of your result, did it?""Dark and low moments" are anything but boring. They are the bread and butter of learning. Not necessarily to be shared.So just as your honesty was greatly appreciated, unless it became really offensive, perhaps one should also appreciate the honesty of the 29hour finisher who aggravated (but again it did not seem offensive) your own DNF evaluation, in the race and in the experiment as far as I am concerned.You are unquestionably talented runner and academic with a solid, unique place in the world, who has no less replicated his genetic code, in the most conventional of ways 🙂 Sometimes big accomplishments are more obvious than we can believe. Growing up a child is an ultra-event of epic proportions… and no less the second thought, after the way to beat hills, which came to mind.There ain't no victory, nor defeat, that can change that. Neither good, nor bad. No experience without experiments. Rock on. Sincerely, Corrado


  12. Thanks, everybody.Jem: Yes, my current opinion is that WS is so ill-matched to my strengths that I'm unlikely to return. Perhaps that's a "sore loser" attitude, but, with so many ultras to choose from, why not focus on the ones where I'm likely to excel?Jay: Yes, I'm hoping to go to Winschoten. The question yet to be resolved is whether my wife and I can afford the trip.Corrado: I too saw the race as an experiment, but one that was completely independent of the blogging and conducted almost entirely for my own benefit. In my case, I wanted to see how I would handle the extra distance, time on my feet, and elevation change. Once I got my answer, the experiment was over. I'm sorry that I was unable to offer you a better exploration of the grim territory beyond exhaustion.


  13. Greg, your witty and sharp comment made me genuinely smile 🙂 Just for the record please be advised I am not a sadist. I value Life greatly and I am not at all enthused by extreme daredevil-types and performers who run great risks solely for money or play.Ironically, your alleged failure may do more for ultra-running, and Running in general, than a win or a place might have. Because if a real elite runner, a fast runner, passionate, scientific, versatile runner and multitasking human like yourself still has to cope with failure, well any beginner and first-timer can strive for some satisfaction and self-esteem achieving just a fraction of what you do. Lick your wounds, be proud and go and get them…


  14. Greg,Another great effort, and very wise DNF. I'd hate to see such a promising runner possibly permanently soured/injured by foolishly continuing. Personally, I can't possibly imagine anyone surviving the elevation gains and losses, UNLESS one specifically trains properly for all of that. Unfortunately "Horses for courses" is a truism and some people find the extremes of ups and downs impossible even with proper training.Continued success on the courses that suit you better (and best).


  15. Greg,Thanks for the reply on the contest. I almost for got about it. FYI – You didn't disappoint me by any means. You ran WS as best as you could. Some of my friends had to drop at Devils Thumb due to various issues. It was an interesting and fun night for me to keep tabs of everyone thanks to my late work hours. Hal REALLY suprised me since there was no talk about him the whole time before the race.Definately play to your strengths. I'll see you on the trails…passing me. 🙂



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